FLORENCE, Ala. - The grunts on the University of North Alabama Campus are unmistakable. They come from the heart of campus, in a habitat for the school’s two African Lion mascots. For almost 14-years, the brother and sister have roamed their habitat.
University Communications Director Bryan Rachal said Leo III and UNA have been cared for around the clock since their birth.
“They have a state of the art habitat where they can jump around and play and get in the water,” said Rachal. “We introduce new scents and new toys so they don’t get bored. We feel like we are doing everything right on our end and we are not ashamed to talk about our lions and how important they are to us.”
The university has been brought into the spotlight with the passing of LSU’s “Mike the Tiger”.
On Friday, Rachal drove home the universities case for having Leo III and UNA on campus with ESPN’s Bob Ley and a representative from PETA.
PETA said all live animal mascots should be returned to sanctuaries or the wild if possible to live a normal life.
“Our lions are more than mascots; they are educational opportunities for people in this area,” Rachal explained. “And one of the points I stressed on the show is that for people in northern Alabama, they don’t have the opportunity to see an animal like this.”
Rachal stresses the habitat is a USDA approved facility which gets exceptional ratings.
He added Leo III and UNA will be allowed to live a fuller life where they are now, rather than in a sanctuary or the wild.
All though the university owns the lions and habitat, both were donations. All upkeep and medical treatment is paid for through private donations and in-kind contributions.
Leo III and UNA will be celebrating their 14th birthday next month.